Texas A&M archaeology prof fired due to misconduct. He was listed as a potential witness for Danielle Kurin in her Initial Disclosures in her lawsuit against a #MeToo reporter


The January 12, 2021 issue of the The Eagle, a campus newspaper of Texas A&M University (TAMU), has the news: Filipe Castro, an archaeology professor at TAMU, has been fired for misconduct. A second professor in the TAMU anthropology department, Michael Alvard, received a written reprimand.

I reported on the abuses of both of these men, and a number of others in the TAMU anthropology department, in an extensive article in 2019. Here is what I said about them:

"Filipe Castro: Extreme sexism, harassment, unethical behavior.

Filipe Castro, a maritime archaeologist at TAMU, is accused by multiple colleagues of some of the most blatantly sexist behavior I have seen in a university professor. Sources say that Castro would make crude anti-Semitic jokes during his lectures, along with sexist remarks. He told some male students that he only hires "hot girls" as research assistants. On another occasion, he declared that "American girls are extremely dumb and only good for blowjobs."

Castro also directed his sexism directly at female students in the department, reportedly telling them that it was a "man's world" and they should just accept it. He often attempted to intimidate, humiliate, and demean female students; his behavior was an open secret in the department.

Multiple sources also attest that Castro attempted on several occasions to appropriate the work of students for his own purposes and credit. He was also extremely abusive to students under his tutelage, especially women. I cannot say more about this, to protect sources, but this behavior has been described to me in detail and there is no ambiguity about its extremely unethical nature.

As in almost all the cases described in this post, department leaders, including the department chair, were aware of this abusive behavior but Castro was apparently never sanctioned for it. Says one former student: "Instead of protecting us and punishing illegal behavior, they made him a full professor." And former students who had to endure abuse from Castro say they don't trust the university to do anything about it now; they still fear retaliation even though they have left TAMU. "It is still very painful, and I am still afraid," a former student says.

I don't know how many dozens of times I have heard similar statements from former graduate students from university departments all over the world."

"Michael Alvard was in the center of a celebrated incident in the department in the spring of 2017. As part of his Culture Method and Theory class (ANTH604-600), Alvard required students to participate as subjects in an experiment that was part of his own research. The study, called "A Naturalistic Study of Norm Conformity and Enforcement," required some students to wear hats in the university's Memorial Student Center, behavior which is severely frowned upon at TAMU. Some subjects objected to participating in the study at the beginning of the semester, arguing that it violated the university's (and universal) policies against forced human participation in research (which must be approved by an Institutional Review Board, IRB.) Indeed, Alvard's syllabus for the class required all students to agree to participate in the study to get class credit for it.

When students objected, Alvard sent out a couple of threatening emails in an apparent effort to gain compliance. One, dated January 25, 2017, was directed at a student who had apparently objected somewhat vociferously. "Per rule 2.1 of the [TAMU] rules," Alvard wrote, "I have the authority to remove you from my class and I will do so if the behavior continues...Demanding that I modify the course work for all students to meet your needs is not appropriate."

Later that same day, upon realizing that the objections were widespread, Alvard wrote to the entire class: "Intellectual give and take is great, but I demand civility in my classroom. If you cannot behave in a manner that allows teaching and learning to happen, I will remove you from the class." However, Alvard offered students who "have a moral or ethical position that precludes you from wearing a hat in the MSC" an alternative assignment, albeit one that took more than ten times as much time.

The episode resulted in the convening of a committee composed department members to adjudicate the matter, which met on February 13, 2017. The committee recommended that the requirement to wear a hat in the MSC should be removed from the syllabus; that Alvard did not have proper IRB approval to use students as active participants; that Alvard had engaged in "an inappropriate use of the power of a professor;" that Alvard had set a "hostile tone" in his class and that he needed to apologize to the students.

Alvard refused to apologize, and in a very recent email to the department (written after I first named him in my reporting) he attempted to defend himself. See this earlier blog post for his comments.

Update: A former member of the department, upon reading this, comments:

I was seriously appalled at the information about Michael Alvard's class assignment about wearing hats in the Memorial Student Center.  The "rule" against wearing hats is in honor of all Aggies who have served in the US military, and the tower at the MSC is called Rudder Tower, after Earl Rudder, who led one of the main assaults on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  Texas A&M has a lot of unusual traditions and rules that they perhaps take a bit too seriously, but no way should a faculty member ever ask a student to dishonor US military service people."

The article in The Eagle does not give many details of the allegations against the two men, but they are consistent with what I reported in 2019. What we do know is that my reporting led to an extensive review by the university and the department itself of its internal "culture," and that this review is still ongoing as far as I am aware. (Inside Higher Education has now also reported on these developments.)

Danielle Kurin identifies Filipe Castro as an "individual likely to have discoverable information" that she "may use to support her claims or defenses" in her defamation case against me.

I have pointed out before that Kurin has used a number of investigations I carried out on alleged abusers and sexual harassers as evidence for her false contention that I am an unethical journalist who routinely gets it wrong and harasses innocent academics with unfounded accusations. Castro is just one example.

This remarkable claim began with her Complaint against me in the defamation case. In that Complaint, Kurin complained that I had unfairly treated four individuals: Brian Richmond, formerly of the American Museum of Natural History; David Yesner, formerly of the University of Alaska, Anchorage; Ran Boytner, former executive director of the Institute for Field Research; and Peter Rathjen, former president of the University of Adelaide.

The facts: Brian Richmond was forced to resign by the AMNH after my investigation of his misconduct for Science was published and led to a renewed investigation by the museum of earlier charges; David Yesner was denied emeritus status and banned from the University of Alaska after an investigation by the university concluded that he had sexually assaulted and harassed students over a period of many years; Ran Boytner was terminated from IFR after I reported on his own misconduct, in what the chair of the board of IFR publicly called a "breach of trust"; and Peter Rathjen was fired from the University of Adelaide after official investigators found that he had committed sexual harassment and assault not only there but at the University of Melbourne as well (a third investigation, at the University of Tasmania, came up with similar findings.)

I have made Kurin aware of these facts in my own Answer to the Complaint, and I notified her attorney personally about the developments concerning Rathjen. But these false allegations remain in the court record.

Why is Kurin aligning herself with these individuals? I have lots of ideas, but one is paramount: She has little else to offer in her defamation claims against me. Witnesses to Kurin's abuses continue to come forward and I am confident that justice will prevail and I will be successful in defending against her baseless claims.

Update Jan 25, 2021: I mentioned Kurin's invocation of the Peter Rathjen case in her defamation complaint against me, and the fact that she took Rathjen's side and claimed that I had falsely accused him. As I reported earlier, when Rathjen was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, he protected the pedophile who had groomed and attacked Grace Tame when she was under age. Grace Tame has now been named Australian of the Year in recognition of her courageous fight to tell her story. As for Rathjen, he has been fired from his latest position as president and VC of the University of Adelaide, and there have been findings of serious misconduct as well at the University of Melbourne and the U of Tasmania. This is the kind of abuser and predator that Danielle Kurin apparently sympathizes with, as indicated above.

To make things clear, here is my original reporting on Rathjen's role in the Grace Tame matter, excerpted from an earlier blog post:

Peter Rathjen: Sexual assault, protecting a pedophile, ---?

As I mentioned above, during Rathjen's tenure at a major Australian university, he was found guilty of sexual assault against a student. As this is a very sensitive matter, kept strictly secret, I am not identifying the university in question to protect sources. I hope to be able to say more soon, but there is no doubt about the truth of the matter. Australian academic culture, like the academic culture of most countries, is rife with retaliation and threats of retaliation. The level of fear about speaking out is quite high, especially as Australian science is still largely ruled by an old boys' club in which women (and many men) are the subject of constant intimidation.

This brings us to the case of Nicolaas Bester, one of Australia's most notorious pedophiles. Bester was convicted of grooming and sexually assaulted a 15 year old girl, Grace Tame, while a teacher at St. Michael's Collegiate School in Hobart, Tasmania. In 2011, Bester was sentenced to two years and ten months in jail for his crimes. But due to archaic Tasmanian laws (also enforced in Australia's Northern Territory) that purport to protect victims but actually mask the identity of abusers, Tame had to wait nine years before she could speak out about what happened to her. With the help of journalist and anti-sexual assault advocate Nina Funnell, Tame scored a historic win in the Supreme Court of Tasmania, winning the right to identify herself and name her abuser.

(Funnell wrote a number of articles about the Bester case, including one in which Bester claimed to have been the real victim.)

Bester later entered a graduate program in chemistry at the University of Tasmania (UTAS.). And in 2016, while a PhD student there, Bester was sentenced again to four months in jail for remarks he made on social media about his abuse of Grace Tame, including calling his abuse of her "awesome" and "enviable." A judge ruled that this behavior amounted to the production of child exploitation material online, which seems a reasonable decision at the very least.

Enter Peter Rathjen again. After Bester served his new jail sentence, he returned to the University of Tasmania campus, where Rathjen was Vice-Chancellor, to continue his PhD work, unimpeded by any action from the university administration. That failure to protect students led, in spring of 2017, to a petition campaign calling upon the university to ban him. The campaign was led by the UTAS Women's Collective, and ultimately gathered more than 1600 signatures. "Myself and many others are incredibly disappointed with the University of Tasmania for not removing Nicolaas Bester from campus," said Heidi La Paglia, a member of the collective who started the petition.

The university refused to take any action. According to my sources, Rathjen was instrumental in the decision to allow Bester to finish his graduate work. But both he and Bester had their supporters. Chief among them was the well known Australian barrister Greg Barns, an advocate for prison reform and staunch defender of Julian Assange. In a Twitter exchange with me after he saw my social media posts on Rathjen and the Bester case--in which he accused me of engaging in a "sleazy trial by media campaign"--Barns praised the former UTAS Vice-Chancellor, saying that "Rathjen behaved impeccably and in accordance with the rule of law and fairness."

To sum up simply: It appears that Peter Rathjen has been involved in sexual misconduct, both as an abuser and an enabler, for most of his career. There may be some irony in the fact that his career will probably end in Adelaide, where his reputation as a serial sexual predator first began.

Post a Comment


Anonymous said…
Man, she sure knows how to pick them. This reads like a guest list for an exclusive “academe’s worst” frat party. RSVP at Your Nearest Title IX Office.
Are Kurin’s initial disclosures documents accessible to concerned members of the public?
Michael Balter said…
Since the plaintiff's disclosures have not been filed with the court we are not making them fully public at this time. Both sides in litigation disclose a lot of documents to the other side during the process of discovery.
Anonymous said…
An offender seeking legitimization by sympathizing with other offenders is a ploy I’ve often witnessed in political scheming, but I have never seen it exploited so unashamedly by an academic. It has one important precedent, though. You mentioned Ran Boytner, and other people convincingly argued that it was his sympathy for Kurin’s “unfair” treatment by Santa Barbara that essentially allowed her to infiltrate the IFR ranks and regain power over students. Boytner would be clearly prone to such perverse logic, given that UCLA treated him similarly after his sexual abuse charges a few years earlier. That Kurin would now follow up and recruit Boytner, Castro and perhaps other offenders who, in her opinion, were treated unfairly by you is only to be expected.

My biggest concern lies with the unlikely, but still possible scenario that she will win this bogus defamation case (and we all know that our legal system is far from perfect), and this will feed back to empower all those she had listed by claiming that their misfortune was solely your fault. It is a vicious cycle that needs to end.
Anonymous said…

What can I say, there’s strength in numbers even among victimizers. A necessary reminder that it was again Ran Boytner who first sympathized with disgraced archaeologist David Yesner as a victim of Balter, in his May 11, 2020 letter to colleagues cited below. This was over a month before Kurin repeated the same claim in her complaint, while adding other known academic harassers to her list.

“From: Ran Boytner
Date: Mon, May 11, 2020 at 2:07 PM
Subject: Cyberbullying and the IFR”
“…During the 2019 Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Albuquerque (NW), Balter was eject from the meeting by the SAA board for bullying behavior. I have been a member of the SAA for almost 30 years and never heard of such ejection in the past. I am not sure Balter is allowed back to the SAA but given his cyberbullying activity, I venture to guess that he may not be allowed to come back...”

Boytner’s allegations of bullying directly contradict the testimony of numerous conference goers, who witnessed Balter standing up for harassment survivors by escorting Yesner out of the building without the use of physical force. The SAA leadership misinterpreted the situation at the time, and removed Balter from the meeting while letting Yesner to return. This resulted in a tremendous backlash against the organization’s response, which was already well documented and publicized by the time Boytner and Kurin made the above claims. In the Member Needs Assessment survey of January 2020, 57% of SAA members reported being unsatisfied with the SAAs response to Yesner’s presence in that meeting and the leadership failure to protect Yesner’s sexual harassment survivors who attended the meeting. Of those who considered cancelling their membership because of “incidents regarding sexual harassment at SAA2019”, 27% self-identify as women, 39% as students and 41% in the age group 18-34.

It is therefore shocking that both Boytner and Kurin will continue to sympathize with Yesner and peddle such horrendous lies, especially in the face of the overwhelming counter-reaction from the archaeological community. I therefore propose that the SAA will immediately revoke the membership of any archaeologist who publicly sympathizes with known sexual predators.